Thoughts on GenCon 2016

Conventions always contain a mix of emotions for me. Each one contains highs and lows. The fact that GenCon is by far the most expensive event of the year only amplifies some of those emotions. Some years the financial expense is offset by a large financial inflow, this year not so much. The combination of booth placement and the fact that we didn’t have very much new product meant that it wasn’t a particularly profitable year when viewed from a strict financial standpoint. We knew that going in. We’ve schooled our thoughts to think of this as a placeholder year financially. Next year we’ll have a game, the 70 maxims book, a new Schlock book, and we’ll put a lot of preparatory effort into ancillary merchandise. Next year should be really good. Yet I still had moments when I mentally ran through the math on this show and felt deeply discouraged.

The show has many important high lights. One of my favorite events every year is the crew dinner. We have a little GenCon family around our booth. It is always lovely to sit down for dinner with them and recognize how very different all our jobs are at the booth. Yet all the jobs are essential and we all are co-conspirators in making this thing possible. My attendance at the event both last year and this year have allowed me to build connections with the crew that I simply didn’t have when I was managing things at a distance.

I got to give two presentations this year, which triggered a series of emotions. Gratitude that the programming chair would trust me to deliver solid materials for two hours of his limited programming space. Then worry that what I have to offer isn’t what the writing symposium attendees would be interested in. That fear is naturally combined with anxiety that they will be interested in the topics, but disappointed with my delivery or expertise on the subjects. I’ve given enough presentations to know that once the event begins, I will fall into a flow of talking and it will all be fine.

There is a magic in giving a presentation to a receptive audience. It is far more interactive than the audience may be aware that it is. I look around the room. I see where they nod or write a note. That information feeds back into my subconscious and leads me to expand or elaborate on one point while letting go of another. My favorite moments are the ones where I say something and I see the face of an audience member change. There is electricity in that moment because I know that something I said connected with something in their mind. It happens more often in the Q&A section because people are bringing up concerns that are directly related to them. I love the part where audience asks questions. I have learned so much about my own thoughts by trying to give good answers. Sometimes a question causes a change in my head and opens up a new set of thoughts and connections. Then I get to say those new connections. This sometimes makes me look like a fount of knowledge, but really I’m just making connections between the current conversation and things that I’ve read, thought, or had conversations about before.

There were some really good thoughts that surfaced during these presentations. Those thoughts will be folded into my ongoing thinking and will inform presentations that I do in the future. The same is true of conversations which continued after we walked out of the classroom. I know that technically I’m the teacher in the situation, but I learn so much from these experiences. I learn from just sitting around and talking with other writers. I learn from not talking and listening while others talk. These interpersonal connections are a huge part of why coming to an event like this is worthwhile.

The connections with other people also feed into some of the hard emotions of the show. For every conversation where I feel connected and valued to the people in the conversational circle, there is a matching conversation where I wonder if I belong or if I’m interloping. My self doubts can eat at me during these events. I know how to short circuit those thoughts. I know how to stare at them, see them, and not let them stop me from joining in conversations. I also know that it is exceedingly unlikely that everyone is just putting up with me rather than actually wanting to be around me. Yet the more tired I become, the more plausible all of these self doubts begin to sound.

There were moments during this show when I just wanted to lay down and cry. Some of it is the self doubt. Some the mental math on finances. Some is overstimulation from being around thousands of people all the time and from my brain having to process all sorts of new input. Some is physical exhaustion caused by more walking than I’m used to, hauling heavy things, and sleeping less than is optimal. The down moments can loom large in my memory. I think this is one of the reasons that people post and tweet pictures of the shiny moments from conventions. There is a need to cement and document those good spots in memory because otherwise the good things get lost in the bleaker moments. Yet neither is a true representation of the entire experience.

High lights and happy moments are easy to gush about publicly. The lows mostly get acknowledged after they’re over. I was pondering on why I do my best to not let the low moments show on my face or in my actions. Some of it is because people are kind and they will want to fix it. They will want to do or say a thing to make it better. This is particularly true for people close to me because they’ll have an added twinge of guilt that they should have prevented the low. The thing is that the lows have far more to do with brain chemistry than with anything external. The real fix is a break to rest and reset.

One of the things I love about our booth team is that we all get this. We’re able to see the lows and call them out for each other. We send each other for breaks. And we speak reassuring words, not to try to bring someone out of a low, but just to counteract the negative thoughts that we know accompany a natural ebb in energy.

GenCon was amazing, hard, exhausting, surprising, fun, exciting, heart warming, lovely, brilliant, discouraging, important, enjoyable, and a dozen other things that slip out of my thoughts because my brain is very tired right now. Over the next week people will ask me “How was your trip?” and all of it will swirl in my brain. I have a hundred small stories about things that happened while I was gone. All of that will get summarized into a polite and brief answer of “good. I had a good trip.” Because to really dig in to how it was would take hours of sorting by talking.

For now I need to rest, and then I need to pick up the threads of life here at home. I was in the middle of many things and I must remember what they are. I’ll leave you a few pictures of the event.


Crew dinner

At the booth